Iowa reaction to Obama's executive action on immigration

President Barack Obama delivered a prime-time televised address last night to explain his new executive order on immigration. The order would remove the threat of deportation for an estimated 5 million of the 11 million immigrants who came to this country illegally. After the jump I’ve posted the full text of the president’s speech, as well as reaction from some members of Iowa’s Congressional delegation and several advocacy groups. I will update this post as needed.

Last year, Iowa’s U.S. senators split when the Senate approved a comprehensive immigration reform bill, which has never come up for a vote in the U.S. House. Just before Congress adjourned for five weeks this summer, Iowa’s representatives in the House split on party lines over a border security funding bill bill designed to speed up deportations of unaccompanied children entering this country. Likewise, Tom Latham (IA-03) and Steve King (IA-04) voted for and Bruce Braley (IA-01) and Dave Loebsack (IA-02) against a separate bill that would have reversed the president’s policy (announced two years ago) to suspend deportations of some undocumented immigrants who were brought to this country as children. Click here for background on those bills.

Note: King has been all over the national media the last couple of weeks, as journalists and pundits have discussed the president’s expected action on immigration. Over the summer, King raised the prospect that Obama could be impeached over unilateral action on immigration. But as you can see from statements posted below, more recently he has not advocated impeachment. Instead, King has called on Congress to defund the federal agencies that would carry out Obama’s executive order. Unfortunately for him, that approach is “impossible.”

Both Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton have expressed support for Obama’s executive order in the absence of Congressional action on comprehensive immigration reform.

Several Republican governors who may run for president in 2016 are considering legal action aimed at blocking the president’s executive order. Such a lawsuit could raise the standing of Texas Governor Rick Perry, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, or Indiana Governor Mike Pence with Iowa conservatives who are likely to participate in the next GOP caucuses. I am seeking comment on whether Iowa Governor Terry Branstad might join this legal action.

The Obama administration is already preparing a legal defense that would include precedent from the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling on an Arizona law relating to illegal immigration. Federal officials “have always exercised discretion” in prioritizing cases for deportation.

President Barack Obama’s televised remarks of November 20, as prepared for delivery:

My fellow Americans, tonight, I’d like to talk with you about immigration.

For more than 200 years, our tradition of welcoming immigrants from around the world has given us a tremendous advantage over other nations. It’s kept us youthful, dynamic, and entrepreneurial. It has shaped our character as a people with limitless possibilities – people not trapped by our past, but able to remake ourselves as we choose.

But today, our immigration system is broken, and everybody knows it.

Families who enter our country the right way and play by the rules watch others flout the rules. Business owners who offer their workers good wages and benefits see the competition exploit undocumented immigrants by paying them far less. All of us take offense to anyone who reaps the rewards of living in America without taking on the responsibilities of living in America. And undocumented immigrants who desperately want to embrace those responsibilities see little option but to remain in the shadows, or risk their families being torn apart.

It’s been this way for decades. And for decades, we haven’t done much about it.

When I took office, I committed to fixing this broken immigration system. And I began by doing what I could to secure our borders. Today, we have more agents and technology deployed to secure our southern border than at any time in our history. And over the past six years, illegal border crossings have been cut by more than half. Although this summer, there was a brief spike in unaccompanied children being apprehended at our border, the number of such children is now actually lower than it’s been in nearly two years. Overall, the number of people trying to cross our border illegally is at its lowest level since the 1970s. Those are the facts.

Meanwhile, I worked with Congress on a comprehensive fix, and last year, 68 Democrats, Republicans, and Independents came together to pass a bipartisan bill in the Senate. It wasn’t perfect. It was a compromise, but it reflected common sense. It would have doubled the number of border patrol agents, while giving undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship if they paid a fine, started paying their taxes, and went to the back of the line. And independent experts said that it would help grow our economy and shrink our deficits.

Had the House of Representatives allowed that kind of a bill a simple yes-or-no vote, it would have passed with support from both parties, and today it would be the law. But for a year and a half now, Republican leaders in the House have refused to allow that simple vote.

Now, I continue to believe that the best way to solve this problem is by working together to pass that kind of common sense law. But until that happens, there are actions I have the legal authority to take as President – the same kinds of actions taken by Democratic and Republican Presidents before me – that will help make our immigration system more fair and more just.

Tonight, I am announcing those actions.

First, we’ll build on our progress at the border with additional resources for our law enforcement personnel so that they can stem the flow of illegal crossings, and speed the return of those who do cross over.

Second, I will make it easier and faster for high-skilled immigrants, graduates, and entrepreneurs to stay and contribute to our economy, as so many business leaders have proposed.

Third, we’ll take steps to deal responsibly with the millions of undocumented immigrants who already live in our country.

I want to say more about this third issue, because it generates the most passion and controversy. Even as we are a nation of immigrants, we are also a nation of laws. Undocumented workers broke our immigration laws, and I believe that they must be held accountable – especially those who may be dangerous. That’s why, over the past six years, deportations of criminals are up 80 percent. And that’s why we’re going to keep focusing enforcement resources on actual threats to our security. Felons, not families. Criminals, not children. Gang members, not a mother who’s working hard to provide for her kids. We’ll prioritize, just like law enforcement does every day.

But even as we focus on deporting criminals, the fact is, millions of immigrants – in every state, of every race and nationality – will still live here illegally. And let’s be honest – tracking down, rounding up, and deporting millions of people isn’t realistic. Anyone who suggests otherwise isn’t being straight with you. It’s also not who we are as Americans. After all, most of these immigrants have been here a long time. They work hard, often in tough, low-paying jobs. They support their families. They worship at our churches. Many of their kids are American-born or spent most of their lives here, and their hopes, dreams, and patriotism are just like ours.

As my predecessor, President Bush, once put it: “They are a part of American life.”

Now here’s the thing: we expect people who live in this country to play by the rules. We expect that those who cut the line will not be unfairly rewarded. So we’re going to offer the following deal: If you’ve been in America for more than five years; if you have children who are American citizens or legal residents; if you register, pass a criminal background check, and you’re willing to pay your fair share of taxes – you’ll be able to apply to stay in this country temporarily, without fear of deportation. You can come out of the shadows and get right with the law.

That’s what this deal is. Now let’s be clear about what it isn’t. This deal does not apply to anyone who has come to this country recently. It does not apply to anyone who might come to America illegally in the future. It does not grant citizenship, or the right to stay here permanently, or offer the same benefits that citizens receive – only Congress can do that. All we’re saying is we’re not going to deport you.

I know some of the critics of this action call it amnesty. Well, it’s not. Amnesty is the immigration system we have today – millions of people who live here without paying their taxes or playing by the rules, while politicians use the issue to scare people and whip up votes at election time.

That’s the real amnesty – leaving this broken system the way it is. Mass amnesty would be unfair. Mass deportation would be both impossible and contrary to our character. What I’m describing is accountability – a commonsense, middle ground approach: If you meet the criteria, you can come out of the shadows and get right with the law. If you’re a criminal, you’ll be deported. If you plan to enter the U.S. illegally, your chances of getting caught and sent back just went up.

The actions I’m taking are not only lawful, they’re the kinds of actions taken by every single Republican President and every single Democratic President for the past half century. And to those Members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better, or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer: Pass a bill. I want to work with both parties to pass a more permanent legislative solution. And the day I sign that bill into law, the actions I take will no longer be necessary. Meanwhile, don’t let a disagreement over a single issue be a dealbreaker on every issue. That’s not how our democracy works, and Congress certainly shouldn’t shut down our government again just because we disagree on this. Americans are tired of gridlock. What our country needs from us right now is a common purpose – a higher purpose.

Most Americans support the types of reforms I’ve talked about tonight. But I understand the disagreements held by many of you at home. Millions of us, myself included, go back generations in this country, with ancestors who put in the painstaking work to become citizens. So we don’t like the notion that anyone might get a free pass to American citizenship. I know that some worry immigration will change the very fabric of who we are, or take our jobs, or stick it to middle-class families at a time when they already feel like they’ve gotten the raw end of the deal for over a decade. I hear these concerns. But that’s not what these steps would do. Our history and the facts show that immigrants are a net plus for our economy and our society. And I believe it’s important that all of us have this debate without impugning each other’s character.

Because for all the back-and-forth of Washington, we have to remember that this debate is about something bigger. It’s about who we are as a country, and who we want to be for future generations.

Are we a nation that tolerates the hypocrisy of a system where workers who pick our fruit and make our beds never have a chance to get right with the law? Or are we a nation that gives them a chance to make amends, take responsibility, and give their kids a better future?

Are we a nation that accepts the cruelty of ripping children from their parents’ arms? Or are we a nation that values families, and works to keep them together?

Are we a nation that educates the world’s best and brightest in our universities, only to send them home to create businesses in countries that compete against us? Or are we a nation that encourages them to stay and create jobs, businesses, and industries right here in America?

That’s what this debate is all about. We need more than politics as usual when it comes to immigration; we need reasoned, thoughtful, compassionate debate that focuses on our hopes, not our fears.

I know the politics of this issue are tough. But let me tell you why I have come to feel so strongly about it. Over the past few years, I have seen the determination of immigrant fathers who worked two or three jobs, without taking a dime from the government, and at risk at any moment of losing it all, just to build a better life for their kids. I’ve seen the heartbreak and anxiety of children whose mothers might be taken away from them just because they didn’t have the right papers. I’ve seen the courage of students who, except for the circumstances of their birth, are as American as Malia or Sasha; students who bravely come out as undocumented in hopes they could make a difference in a country they love. These people – our neighbors, our classmates, our friends – they did not come here in search of a free ride or an easy life. They came to work, and study, and serve in our military, and above all, contribute to America’s success.

Tomorrow, I’ll travel to Las Vegas and meet with some of these students, including a young woman named Astrid Silva. Astrid was brought to America when she was four years old. Her only possessions were a cross, her doll, and the frilly dress she had on. When she started school, she didn’t speak any English. She caught up to the other kids by reading newspapers and watching PBS, and became a good student. Her father worked in landscaping. Her mother cleaned other people’s homes. They wouldn’t let Astrid apply to a technology magnet school for fear the paperwork would out her as an undocumented immigrant – so she applied behind their back and got in. Still, she mostly lived in the shadows – until her grandmother, who visited every year from Mexico, passed away, and she couldn’t travel to the funeral without risk of being found out and deported. It was around that time she decided to begin advocating for herself and others like her, and today, Astrid Silva is a college student working on her third degree.

Are we a nation that kicks out a striving, hopeful immigrant like Astrid – or are we a nation that finds a way to welcome her in?

Scripture tells us that we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger – we were strangers once, too.

My fellow Americans, we are and always will be a nation of immigrants. We were strangers once, too. And whether our forebears were strangers who crossed the Atlantic, or the Pacific, or the Rio Grande, we are here only because this country welcomed them in, and taught them that to be an American is about something more than what we look like, or what our last names are, or how we worship. What makes us Americans is our shared commitment to an ideal – that all of us are created equal, and all of us have the chance to make of our lives what we will.

That’s the country our parents and grandparents and generations before them built for us. That’s the tradition we must uphold. That’s the legacy we must leave for those who are yet to come.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless this country we love.

Senator Tom Harkin voted for the Senate’s bipartisan immigration reform bill last year. His office released this comment on November 20:

“Today the President announced Executive Action to take some common sense steps to fix our nation’s broken immigration system. I support the President’s decision and the much-needed improvements it will bring.

“While legislation remains the only way to fully address the long-term problems with our immigration system, after waiting almost 18 months for the slightest indication the House will act on the strong bipartisan Senate bill, the President is doing the right thing today.

“This action will be consistent not only with the law and the constitution but with the actions of many previous Presidents. It will allow at least some of the millions of immigrants living in the shadows to be able to play by the rules, to work legally, and to pay taxes.”

Senator Chuck Grassley voted against the bipartisan immigration reform bill last year. Grassley released two statements on November 19 criticizing the president’s planned executive action. One was the text of a speech Grassley delivered on the Senate floor:

Prepared Floor Statement of Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa

Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee

President Obama’s Abuse of Executive Action and Mass Amnesty

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

In his State of the Union address last January, President Obama announced what he called a year of action.  Armed with a pen and a phone, he promised to take action where Congress wouldn’t.  At the time, I warned that these threats were a gathering danger to the separation of powers established in the Constitution.

The President is now threatening to implement a mass amnesty from our immigration laws by executive fiat.  He plans to act without the support of Congress or the American people.  In fact, he has conveniently waited until after the recent elections to do so, to avoid being punished at the ballot box.

This executive order will be the culmination of his self-proclaimed year of action.

The President may think of this executive action as a political victory in a year filled with so many failures and defeats for him and his party.  But history will surely view it as a serious blow to the system of checks and balances established by the Framers.   In reality, this was a year in which the President’s abuse of executive power came into clear focus.

Today I’d like to review President Obama’s pattern of unconstitutional executive action this year.  I’d like to explain why the mass amnesty he is threatening is merely the latest in a long list of abuses of his executive authority.  And I’d like offer a few thoughts about what the Senate can do about these kinds of abuses.

After the President’s State of the Union address, I wrote to the Attorney General on January 31st.  I wrote that I was “gravely concerned that the system of checks and balances enshrined in the Constitution [was] threatened by the President’s determination to take unilateral action.”

In short, I made clear, that “while the President has a pen and a phone, we have a Constitution that places limits on his use of them to issue Executive Orders.”

Indeed, my concern about the President’s threat to take action on his own was “heightened by the administration’s record of failing to discharge its constitutional duty to ‘take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.'”

By then, President Obama had already failed to execute the law in many areas.  For example, the administration was re-writing Obamacare deadlines at will, and was making little effort to enforce the Controlled Substances Act in some states.  These abuses rang like alarm bells in the night even before the so-called year of action began.

Indeed, in December 2013, a liberal law professor testified before the House Judiciary Committee that “despite the fact that I once voted for President Obama, personal admiration is no substitute for the constitutional principles at stake in this controversy.”

He continued: “When a president claims the inherent power of both legislation and enforcement, he becomes a virtual government unto himself.  He is not simply posing a danger to the constitutional system; he becomes the very danger that the Constitution was designed to avoid.”

Against this backdrop, I asked the President to defend the legal basis for the actions he was threatening.   In my letter, I asked the Attorney General to direct the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel to publicly disclose its opinions concerning the lawfulness of the executive orders proposed by the President.

That’s what the Office of Legal Counsel does – it reviews all executive orders to determine whether they are constitutional and lawful.  Many of its opinions have been made public in the past.

I hoped that this transparency would allow Congress and the American people to better understand the alleged legal basis for these orders, and challenge them if necessary.

Providing Congress and the American people with the legal opinions supporting his unilateral actions seemed like a reasonable request of a President who had claimed to support an “unprecedented level of openness” and transparency in government.

February passed.  March as well.  April came and went.  Winter turned to spring, and summer was around the corner.   And on May 20th, I finally received a response from the Justice Department.  In summary, the department told me no, they wouldn’t disclose these opinions to the public.

However, the Department assured me, if I had questions about a particular Office of Legal Counsel advice document, it would assist me in understanding it “to the fullest extent possible.”

In short, the administration stonewalled legitimate questions from Congress, as it so often does.

As it turned out, within a few weeks, I and many others in Congress had very serious questions about a specific executive action and its effect on our national security.  And we had questions about the advice provided by the Office of Legal Counsel.  The American people did as well.

In early June, the President decided to release five Taliban detainees held at Guantanamo Bay in exchange for Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, a U.S. soldier who had been captured in 2009.

The detainees were reportedly senior-level Taliban commanders.  Some had direct links to al-Qaeda.  And all were reportedly determined to be of high risk to the United States and were recommended for continued detention.  Nonetheless, President Obama decided to free them from Guantanamo.

There was one problem, however.   The National Defense Authorization Act required that the administration notify Congress 30 days before any detainee was transferred from there.

Under this statute, the notification was required to include lots of detailed information – about the basis for the transfers, why they were in our national security interest, and any actions taken to prevent detainees from returning to the battlefield.

In fact, none of this information was provided to Congress before these detainees were released, as the law requires.  And perhaps not coincidentally, this was information that members of Congress and the American people were very interested in learning.  There were – and still are – serious questions about whether releasing these detainees from Guantanamo was a good idea.

So the President decided to act alone, without regard for Congress’ role in our system of checks and balances, and directly contrary to a law he had recently signed.

Then, the administration began changing its story about why it broke the law.  First, they said it was Sergeant Bergdahl’s health that required his release without notifying Congress.  Then they said it was operational security surrounding the release itself.   Then they said it was the nature of the negotiations with the Taliban.

But there was one point administration officials were clear about: the Department of Justice had provided legal advice that justified transferring these detainees from Guantanamo without informing Congress, as the law required.

This was difficult to square with the limited powers of the executive established in the Constitution.  In Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company versus Sawyer, otherwise known as the Steel Seizure case, the Supreme Court set a clear precedent establishing these limits.  In that case, the Supreme Court held that President Truman’s executive order seizing steel mills to avoid a strike during the Korean War was unconstitutional.

In doing so, the Court emphasized that the Executive isn’t above the laws written by Congress.  “The Founders of this Nation entrusted the lawmaking power to the Congress alone in both good and bad times.  It would do no good to recall the historical events, the fears of power and the hopes for freedom that lay behind their choice.  Such a review would but confirm our holding that this seizure order cannot stand.”

Moreover, Justice Jackson emphasized that when, as here, “the President takes measures incompatible with the expressed or the implied will of Congress, his power is at his lowest ebb.”

Just as the Supreme Court held that President Truman had unlawfully seized the steel mills, President Obama’s release of the Taliban detainees without the required notification effectively re-wrote the law contrary to the will of Congress.

In short, there didn’t seem to be a lawful basis for what the President had done.  In fact, it seemed plainly illegal.

So I took the department up on its offer.

In a letter to the Attorney General dated June 5th, I requested that he direct the Office of Legal Counsel to make public “its opinions, analyses and conclusions concerning the lawfulness of the transfer . . .  without compliance with the statute that requires congressional notification.”

I added that it was “obviously too late for Congress to express its concerns about these transfers in time to prevent them.  However, this measure of transparency will at least allow the American people to better understand the Administration’s purported basis for ignoring the legal requirement that Congress be notified in advance, and shed additional light on this controversial decision.”

It’s now six months later, and the Attorney General hasn’t given me the courtesy of a response to my letter.  We still don’t know how the department justified the release of these detainees.  We don’t know the legal basis or the underlying facts that were relied upon.

That just isn’t acceptable.  But sadly, it’s become commonplace with the Obama Administration.

It turns out that to this Justice Department, assisting me “to the fullest extent possible” is actually indistinguishable from ignoring my request completely.

Shortly thereafter, in August, the Government Accountability Office concluded that the administration acted illegally when it released these senior-level Taliban commanders from Guantanamo without notifying Congress.

Now let’s be clear.  That wasn’t a member of Congress reaching that conclusion.  It wasn’t a political operative or a talking head on television.  It was an independent, non-partisan government agency.

And so the GAO effectively said: President Obama, you broke the law.

So perhaps it makes sense that the Department of Justice couldn’t respond to my letter.  Maybe even the very smart lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel couldn’t come up with a justification for what happened that passed the laugh test.

But that wasn’t the only rebuke the President suffered this year after trampling on Congress’ role under the Constitution.  The Supreme Court was forced to rein in President Obama as well, in a dispute over his power to make recess appointments.

Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution provides for only two ways in which Presidents may appoint certain officers.

First, it provides that the President nominates, and with the advice and consent of the Senate, appoints various officers.

Second, it permits the President to make temporary appointments when a vacancy in one of those offices happens when the Senate is in recess.

Back in 2012, President Obama made four appointments to various Executive Branch positions.  They were purportedly based on the Recess Appointments Clause.  But he took this action even though they weren’t made, in the words of the Constitution, “during the recess of the Senate.”

No President in history had ever tried to make recess appointments when the Senate said it was in session.  But this President once again decided to go around Congress.

In June of this year, the Supreme Court struck down these appointments as unconstitutional.   It wasn’t a split decision.  It wasn’t five to four along party lines.  It was unanimous.  Every justice agreed – those appointed by both Republicans and Democrats.   That included two justices appointed by President Obama himself.

 It was the Supreme Court’s biggest rebuke to any President since 1974, when it ordered President Nixon to produce the Watergate tapes.

This was a case where the Office of Legal Counsel’s opinion didn’t pass the laugh test.

And so the Supreme Court unanimously said:  President Obama, you broke the law.

So this purported year of action has brought into focus a President with little respect for the roles of the co-equal branches of government, unwilling to explain the legal basis for his actions, and rebuked by the courts and independent agencies for overstepping his bounds.

           Now President Obama is threatening to act unilaterally on immigration.  If you thought that this year’s events so far would have given the President pause about his “go it alone” approach, apparently, you would be wrong.

Of course, one of the reasons I oppose mass amnesty is because it’s bad policy.  Immigration reform should begin with securing our borders.  Border security is among the most basic responsibilities of any country.

But this administration hasn’t done that.  To the contrary, according to recent news reports, it has freed alleged kidnappers, rapists and murderers into communities in the United States rather than deport them.  It has sacrificed public safety in order to provide relief for people who are here illegally.

But the President’s unilateral action on immigration isn’t just bad policy.  It’s contrary to the rule of law.  It’s unconstitutional for the executive branch to nullify, or even unilaterally re-write, the immigration laws that the people of the United States, through their elected representatives, have chosen to enact.

We have been hearing about the possibility of an executive action on immigration for many months.  It will apparently involve steps to allow millions of people illegally present in the United States to live, work, and collect benefits here.

The Democratic leadership wants to compare what’s being threatened here to the executive actions of past presidents on immigration.  But the actions of Presidents Reagan and Bush were merely tying up loose ends, carrying out a law Congress had just passed.  They established policies that were later put into statute in 1990.  President Obama is threatening to act directly against the wishes of Congress, and on a far greater scope and scale.

That is why I and twenty-one other Senators wrote to the President on April 24th to express our grave concerns about the lawfulness of what was reportedly under consideration.

Apparently, our warnings aren’t being heeded.

And now, if the President acts after repeated calls by congressional leaders not to do so, it will severely damage his relationship with the new Congress elected by the American people.

But the core issue is this: under our Constitution, the Congress makes the law.  And under Article II, Section 3, the President is charged with taking care that these laws are faithfully executed.

But if President Obama effectively legalizes people who are here unlawfully, no one will be able to reasonably argue that he is faithfully executing our immigration laws.  Once again, that doesn’t pass the laugh test.

And so like the GAO and the Supreme Court earlier this year, I say: President Obama, if you take this executive action on immigration, you’ll be breaking the law.  Even more than that – you’ll be violating the Constitution.

And the President knows this.  Just a few years ago, he conceded:  “This notion that somehow I can just change the laws unilaterally is just not true.  The fact of the matter is there are laws on the books that I have to enforce.  And I think there’s been a great disservice done to the cause of getting … comprehensive immigration [legislation] passed by perpetrating the notion that somehow, by myself, I can go and do these things.  It’s just not true.  We live in a democracy.  You have to pass bills through the legislature, and then I can sign it.”

The President was right then, even if he doesn’t want to live by his own words now.  There are no short-cuts to following the Constitution.

Now, what we’re likely to hear from the administration is that this executive action is simply a lawful exercise of enforcement discretion.

It’s not.

Lawful enforcement discretion is exercised on an individualized, case-by-case basis.  So whether enforcement action takes place is informed by a careful evaluation of the facts of a particular case, as each case presents itself.

Lawful enforcement discretion isn’t selecting entire categories of individuals, and telling them that, going forward, the law won’t be applied to them.

That’s what President Obama is threatening to do.

This shouldn’t only concern constitutional scholars and lawyers.  It is no exaggeration to say that the freedom of the American people is at stake.  That’s what the Framers believed.  In Federalist 51, James Madison wrote that the “separate and distinct exercise of the different powers of government” is “essential to the preservation of liberty.”

Moreover, in the Steel Seizure case, Justice Frankfurter warned that “the accretion of dangerous power does not come in a day.  It does come, however slowly, from the generative force of unchecked disregard of the restrictions that fence in even the most disinterested assertion of authority.”

President Obama’s actions this year reek of unchecked disregard of the restrictions of his authority.

In his remarks after the recent elections, President Obama repeatedly emphasized that his executive action would be lawful.  But as this year has shown, he has repeatedly acted illegally even though the Department of Justice had assured him otherwise.

The Office of Legal Counsel doesn’t appear to be providing independent legal advice to the President – it’s simply rubber-stamping whatever he wants to do.

So it’s cold comfort for the President to assure us that anything he would do is legal.

Let’s go back to the bedrock principles of our country’s founding.  The Framers of our Constitution knew an abusive executive when they saw one.  They sent the Declaration of Independence to a King who had ignored and abused their legislatures and laws.

And the Framers would also have recognized the specific kinds of executive abuses reflected in President Obama’s mass amnesty.  They would have referred to them as the royal suspending and dispensing powers.

But George III didn’t even try to abuse the colonists with these powers.  Why? Because Parliament had denied them to the King a hundred years before the American Revolution.

You see, Kings of England had traditionally asserted the power to suspend the operation of certain laws or to grant dispensations prospectively excusing particular individuals from compliance.  But as deference to the King’s authorities eroded, these powers became more controversial.

As part of the Glorious Revolution in the late 17th century, these royal powers were terminated.  The first two articles in the English Bill of Rights of 1689 made it illegal for the King to exercise the “pretended power of suspending the laws” and “dispensing with laws.”

This happened a century before our own Constitutional Convention.  So when the Framers met in Philadelphia, these were abuses long since remedied in England.  Instead, the Framers charged the President with the constitutional duty to take care that the laws are faithfully executed.

With his talk of mass amnesty, President Obama is threatening to abandon this constitutional duty.  He is threatening to re-assert royal powers that even the Framers thought were long abolished.  He is threatening to take our country backward, a century before the American Revolution.

When talking about immigration policy, the President has acknowledged that he “isn’t a King.”  He shouldn’t act like one.

During the President’s remaining two years in office, how should the Senate respond to the President’s illegal executive action on immigration or any other of these kinds of executive abuses?

In some cases, we can use the power of the purse to defund them.  In other cases, we may use our congressional oversight tools to expose them.  And in still other cases, we may be able to pass legislation to do away with them completely.

These tools have been available to the Senate since President Obama was elected.  But it should come as no surprise that the Democrats in the Majority didn’t use them to confront his abuses of power.

In the 114th Congress, we Republicans intend to use them.

I yield the floor.

November 19, 2014

Criminal Aliens may be Allowed to Remain in Country Under Executive Action Despite Policy “Prioritizing” their Deportation

           WASHINGTON – Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the Ranking Member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said today that executive action taken by President Barack Obama may continue to allow thousands of undocumented criminals to remain in the country even though they have been identified as a priority for deportation by his own administration.  

           Grassley sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson expressing his concerns that despite a 2011 enforcement memorandum prioritizing the deportation of convicted criminals, the department released more than 36,000 of them back into U.S. communities during fiscal 2013, including 169 homicide convicts.  During this same time frame, the Obama administration reportedly released an unknown number of people who had been convicted of 426 sexual assaults, 1,075 aggravated assaults, 228 kidnappings, 647 hit-and-runs, 1,317 domestic violence offenses, and thousands of other dangerous crimes, including treason.

“The egregious use of executive action and rule by fiat is bad enough, but knowing that undocumented criminals continue to be released into communities, even this past year, and could still remain in the country is outrageous,” Grassley said.  “The Obama administration allowed tens of thousands of undocumented criminals to stay in communities across the country despite a policy specifically stating that these people be deported.  The Department released murderers and domestic abusers from its custody.  So, why would anyone trust this administration going forward?”

           Grassley wrote in the letter to Johnson, “Given ICE’s admitted failure in FY 2013 to pursue the removal priorities identified in the June 2011 enforcement memorandum, there is a genuine concern as to whether deportations of convicted criminals and those who pose a national security risk will be any different under a new enforcement memorandum.”

           In June, Grassley began asking questions about the release of individuals convicted of homicide and were awaiting deportation proceedings.  Grassley said that ICE’s response showed that the administration failed to put procedures in place to ensure public safety and national security.  Grassley then reiterated unanswered questions and asked additional questions in August.  The department has not responded to that letter.

           Here’s a copy of the text of today’s letter to Johnson.  The signed copy can be found here.

Grassley released this statement after the president’s speech last night:

Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Chuck Grassley of Iowa made the following statement after President Barack Obama’s announcement tonight that he will make a series of executive actions thwarting the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Grassley has sent letters questioning the President’s planned executive action, and his actions to enforce current immigration law.  Grassley also has asked about policies prioritizing deportation of criminal aliens.

In addition, Grassley gave a speech on the Senate floor last night about the President’s abuse of executive authority and mass amnesty.

Here is Grassley’s statement.

“The President’s executive actions on immigration are the wrong way forward and disrespectful of the law.  Such broad, massive legalization is an affront to the Constitution.  The President himself has said that he doesn’t have authority, or that he doesn’t prefer this course of action, but yet continues to take this route.

“The President is missing a big opportunity to enact real reform, and instead he’s poisoning the well for future action.  Nobody thinks the status quo is okay.  But, the President’s actions are only a Band-aid for a real problem; in fact, he’s making it worse.  How does Congress move forward when the President has made it clear with tonight’s announcement that he doesn’t want to work with the elected officials in the legislative branch where reform has to happen?

“Unfortunately, if the American people have learned anything about this President, it’s that he has never worked well with Congress-even those in his own party.  His disdain for a co-equal branch of government is very evident.  It shows in executive actions like this, in regulations that the American people are solidly against, and in his and his Cabinet’s responses to Congress’ constitutional responsibility of oversight.

“I think the President would have been wise to start where we can agree.  Let’s work on Trade Promotion Authority or Corporate Tax Reform.  If we start with items we can agree on, maybe, just maybe, it would lead to some understanding of what needs to be done on immigration.  Once you realize you can work together, you might find out you can solve a much bigger problem like immigration.  But, at this point, it looks like he doesn’t even want to try.”

I haven’t seen any new comments from Representative Steve King since last night’s speech, but his office released this statement on November 13:

King: We are Headed for a Constitutional Crisis if President Grants Amnesty

Washington, D.C. – Congressman Steve King released the following statement in reaction to the leaked amnesty details this morning:

“This President has been floating the trial balloon on executive amnesty for a long time,” said King. “Today, new details surfaced that the President plans to attempt amnesty as early as next Friday, sending us into a Constitutional crisis.  

The President was right when he said on March 28, 2011, ‘with respect to the notion that I can just suspend deportations through executive order, that’s just not the case, because there are laws on the books that Congress has passed.’ And when he said, on May 10, 2011, ‘sometimes when I talk to immigration advocates, they wish I could just bypass Congress and change the law myself.  But that’s not how a democracy works.’ Well, now we know that his belief about ‘how democracy works’ was a ploy. Now he wants to unilaterally rewrite immigration law granting illegal amnesty to millions.

The audacity of this President to think he can completely destroy the Rule of Law with the stroke of a pen is unfathomable to me. It is unconstitutional, it is cynical, and it violates the will of the American people. Our Republic will not stand if we tolerate a President who is set upon the complete destruction of the Rule of Law.

I am calling on all of my colleagues in the House to use the power of the purse to protect our Article I authority. This is about defending our oath to the Constitution too. We cannot allow Barack Obama’s anticipated, unconstitutional act to be implemented, for if it is it will destroy the pillars of American Exceptionalism.  Come what may – we must always protect the Constitution.”

Speaking to reporters on November 19, King explained how he planned to fight.

“The president is throwing this nation into a crisis and we have an obligation to do our duty, here, and in the Senate,” Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) told reporters.

Obama purposely timed the announcement, King said, to coincide with lawmakers leaving Washington Thursday for Thanksgiving recess. King said he’s staying behind in Washington to deal with the issue.

“I decided in an instant, I’m staying,” he said.

King laid out three steps the House could take to respond to Obama, including a resolution of rejection, censuring Obama and defunding the order to prevent its implementation. He stopped short of supporting impeachment.

“I don’t want to go down that path. We have lived through that and it put the nation through a lot of trauma,” he added.

Over the summer, King sounded more open to the idea of impeaching Obama over executive action on immigration.

King’s idea of “defunding” the order is not feasible, though, as Rebecca Shabad reported for The Hill.

In a statement released by [House Appropriations] Committee Chairman Hal Rogers’s (R-Ky.) office hours before Obama’s scheduled national address, the committee said the primary agency responsible for implementing Obama’s actions is funded entirely by user fees.

As a result, the committee said the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) agency would be able to continue to collect fees and carry out its operations even if the government shut down.

“This agency is entirely self-funded through the fees it collects on various immigration applications,” the committee said in a statement. “Congress does not appropriate funds for any of its operations, including the issuance of immigration status or work permits, with the exception of the ‘E-Verify’ program. Therefore, the appropriations process cannot be used to ‘defund’ the agency.”

A spokesman for Rogers and the panel elaborated on the point in a discussion with reporters.

“We cannot, literally cannot, defund that agency in an appropriations bill because we don’t appropriate that agency. That agency is entirely fee-funded,” spokeswoman Jennifer Hing said.

“As of right now, our understanding is the primary agency responsible for implementing any type of executive order is CIS and we don’t fund CIS. There are no appropriated dollars,” she added. […]

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who wants to defund the order, said he didn’t buy the argument from appropriators.

“I just don’t believe that,” he told reporters.

“They’re contriving red herring arguments to get to the point that enough members will walk out of this Congress and go home for Thanksgiving saying, ‘Well, there’s nothing we can do.’ “

Statement released by Representative Dave Loebsack, November 20:

“There is universal agreement that our immigration system is broken and is in need of reforming. It isn’t working for families, businesses or rural America. But for nearly two years, House Republicans led by John Boehner have had a chance to address this issue and have refused to put any comprehensive, bipartisan legislation on the floor. At the same time, bipartisan Senate-passed legislation, while not perfect, awaits action in the House. It is unfortunate that Speaker Boehner has catered to the demands of the extreme Tea Party members in his party and has simply refused to act.

“I have concerns about the President acting without Congressional approval and would have preferred that Congress address this issue. But it has become increasingly clear that the extreme Tea Party faction will not allow any vote on immigration legislation. It is my hope that this action by the President will provide the impetus necessary to spur the House to act on legislation that secures our borders, enforces the rule of law and ensures accountability for those who came here illegally while not tearing apart families who have been here for many years. I am committed to working with anyone on either side of the aisle to advance a serious proposal that will finally fix our broken immigration system.”

Statement from Representative-elect Rod Blum (R, IA-01):

Tonight’s unilateral and unconstitutional action by the President — something he’s admitted multiple times he does not have the authority to do — is not the way to fix our immigration system. The executive branch should be working with the legislative branch, as prescribed by the Constitution, not acting alone as President Obama has done. I was looking forward to participating in a transparent and honest discussion on the issue after taking office in January, but I am disappointed that the President does not appear interested in working together with the people American voters elected to represent them in the recent election.

Statement from Representative-elect David Young (R, IA-03):

“We are a compassionate nation, but we are also a nation of laws. The President’s unilateral action ignores our established legislative process and thwarts a genuine opportunity to work together with a new Congress to debate and pass meaningful immigration reform.”

November 20 statement from Iowa Democratic Party Chair Scott Brennan:

“For years, Democrats have been waiting – even imploring – Republicans to join them in a good faith effort to address our broken immigration system.  Unfortunately, those calls have gone unanswered.  That is why the President had no other choice but to take this legal action that will help millions of people across this country and move us one step closer toward a solution.  Sadly, we are seeing the same, tired, partisan rhetoric from Republicans like Steve King and Chuck Grassley.  Threatening to shutdown the government, hold up confirmation of nominees and waste taxpayer time and money to sue the President is not what our country expects out of Washington – they want results.  The election is over, and it is time for Republicans to quit their obstruction and work across the aisle to solve this challenge – and many others – that face our nation.”

November 20 press release from Progress Iowa:

REPORT: Executive Action on Immigration Will Boost Iowa’s Economy

Des Moines, Iowa — President Obama’s announced executive action on immigration will boost the Iowa economy, according to a new report released by the Center for American Progress (CAP). 13,000 undocumented immigrants living in Iowa would see their wages increase by 8.5%, and Iowa tax revenues would see a $22 million spike over five years, according to the study.

Click here to read the report:…

Progress Iowa Executive Director Matt Sinovic issued the following statement in response to President Obama’s executive action and the CAP report:

“President Obama’s executive action will keep families together, raise wages for thousands of Iowans, and bring more money in to our state. The President’s action tonight will make our country and our economy more secure.”

“Republicans like Steve King will demagogue the President’s decision, but I challenge them to speak directly to the 13,000 undocumented immigrants living in Iowa who would be forced to leave their children behind if deported. The US Senate passed bipartisan legislation in 2013, by a 68-32 margin, but it died in the House of Representatives, who refused to hold a vote. Because of their inaction, families in Iowa and across the country were left to wonder whether they would stay together or be ripped apart. Before King or any Congressional Republican criticizes the President, they should remember we are in the position we are today because of their failure to act.”

“The policy effects of the President’s executive action will also be tremendous for our country. Immigrants impacted by the President’s executive action will be required to pay taxes, which will help our economy. And the Department of Homeland Security will be able to free up resources to focus on serious criminals and those who might present a threat to our national security.”

“We hope for and will continue to support a legislative solution to our broken immigration system. But given the multiple delays and the failure by Congressman King and the House of Representatives to act, we are thankful that the President took the executive action he did.”

Progress Iowa is a statewide organization focused on research, education and advocacy regarding Iowa public policy. To learn more, visit

Statement released by the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa:

ACLU Responds to President Obama’s Announcement On Immigration Executive Action

The following statement can be attributed to Erica Johnson, ACLU of Iowa Immigrants’ Rights and Racial Justice Advocate.

“The ACLU of Iowa stands with a broad coalition of advocates across the state and across the country applauding the President’s decision to expand administrative relief to a larger number of immigrants living in our communities.

This action is the result of the hard work of a broad movement and is a decisive step to provide temporary relief for many out of the current broken system in our county. We expect that the executive action will change thousands of lives for families in Iowa who will be able to live, work and be a part of our communities without living fear of being separated from their families.

However, President Obama’s executive actions are not a complete solution. We are extremely concerned about the rights of all six million immigrants excluded from deportation relief, including those who are long-standing neighbors in our communities. The action will also result in more militarization in U.S. border communities, without increasing accountability measures for Customs and Border Protection, the nation’s largest and most dangerous police force.

We also recognize that this action is limited in scope and is not a permanent solution. We call on Iowa’s delegation to get serious and act with urgency to pass meaningful legislation on immigration. A majority of Iowans support legislation providing a roadmap to citizenship for immigrants in our communities, and we renew our call to Congress to make a roadmap to citizenship the centerpiece of any meaningful reform.

Tonight’s announcement is an important step in the right direction, but there is still work to be done. Today we celebrate, but tomorrow, we join our fellow advocates, organizers and movement leaders to continue the fight for the six million immigrants left unprotected.”


The ACLU of Iowa is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that fights to advance civil liberties for all. It is the state affiliate of the national American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU prides itself in upholding everyone’s civil liberties, no matter who they are or what they believe. We have worked to assure the rights of all Iowans-from atheists to devout Christians, from labor unions to businesspeople and more-to make sure the constitutional rights of all are preserved. For more information, go to

Statement released by Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement on November 20:

CCI members hail proposed relief for immigrant families

Obama’s executive order a needed step in bringing Comprehensive Immigration Reform back into national spotlight

Des Moines, IA – Today members of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement are applauding proposed executive action on immigration by President Obama.

Initial press reports indicate the proposed changes could protect some 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation. According to reports, the undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents will be able to apply to remain in the country and work. The reforms are also expected to expand the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to help more undocumented young people who came to the U.S. as children. This includes an estimated 16,500 aspiring Iowans, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

“We applaud President Obama’s executive order. We have been fighting for years to win relief from a broken immigration system that tears our families and our communities apart.” said Iowa CCI board member Nataly Espinosa. “Because of this action, families will be able to stop living in fear.”

“Families across Iowa and throughout the nation deserve the dignity to call themselves citizens after living in the U.S. for decades,” said CCI member Maria Romero. “Not only that but they have been stimulating the economy for years but have yet to reap benefits from those contributions.”

Since the passing of the Senate-approved immigration plan last year, Iowa CCI members have been educating and mobilizing communities to push Congressman Tom Latham and Steve King to support CIR.

“Senator Grassley and Congressmen Latham & King have had six years to work with President Obama to find a workable solution to the crisis facing our families and communities, but they have obstructed and refused every step of the way.” Added Espinosa. “They are out of touch with everyday Iowans on this issue. Iowa is welcoming, and we support today’s action with the realization that there is more work to be done.”

Iowa CCI members have been organizing and mobilizing communities in support of comprehensive immigration reform that keeps families together and that guarantees a clear pathway to citizenship, defends civil and worker rights, and maintains protections for future immigrants to the U.S.

Iowa CCI believes that comprehensive immigration reform should focus on inclusion, not exclusion, and that citizenship should not be limited to small groups of specialized workers or people with advanced degrees in technology, science, or engineering.

About the Author(s)